‘WELCOMING EUROPE’? Understanding Migration in the Context of Global Ageing, Depopulation and Rural-Urban Transformation – 21 June 2024, Utrecht

Organised by the Welcoming Spaces (H2020) in collaboration with the Focus Area Migration and Societal Change – and Centre for Global Challenges (UGlobe) Utrecht University

To register, please follow this LINK:
Conference: ‘Welcoming Europe’? Understanding migration in the context of global aging, depopulation and rural-urban transformation – News & Events – Utrecht University (uu.nl)

Current discussions about the link between migration – ageing – depopulation often end in polarised debates about whether or not migration is ‘the’ solution – the contribution migrants can make to
‘filling gaps’ and/or the revitalisation of shrinking areas. There are however multiple paradoxes and dilemmas. Based on the outcomes of our H2020 Welcoming Spaces programme (2019-2024) and multiple Utrecht University-related research programmes we want to broaden the debate – unravel the connections between ageing – shrinkage and migration; and come with concrete suggestions for achieving ‘spatial justice’ and ‘leaving no one behind’.

The conference will host various keynote lectures, panel discussions (academics, policy makers and practitioners), a photo exhibit of the works of migrants and long-term residents and a Masterclass (Shiatsu and PhD writing with Prof. Tanja Bastia).



FRIDAY, 21 JUNE 2024 (10:00-17:30hr)

Janskerkhof 2-3 (Room 0.01), Utrecht, The Netherlands



10.00-10.15: OPENING

  • Prof. Dr. Ajay Bailey (Head of Department SGPL, Utrecht University)
  • Prof. Dr. Annelies Zoomers (IDS, Utrecht University – Principal Investigator Welcoming Spaces)
  • Ilona von Bethlenfalvy (EU project officer)


10.15-11.30: SETTING THE STAGE: Linking global ageing to migration and rural-urban transformation worldwide: what are the challenges? 

  • Prof. Dr. Tanja Bastia (Professor, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester)
  • Prof. Dr. Helga de Valk (Director, Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute)

Discussant: Prof. Dr. Monique Kremer (Dutch Advisory Council on Migration and professor active citizenship University of Amsterdam) 

Moderator/discussant: Prof. Dr. Maggi Leung (International Development Studies, University of Amsterdam)


11.30-11.45: COFFEE BREAK



Book launch: A modern guide to spatial justice in Europe: Engendering welcoming spaces for migrant emplacement and inclusive development in ‘left behind’ areas (Dr. Karin Geuijen/editorial team)

Lessons from Spain, Italy, Poland, Germany, and the Netherlands 

  • Netherlands (Dr. Marlies Meijer, Wageningen University)/Dr. Sara Miellet (Utrecht University)
  • Germany (Dr. Sabine Meier, RheinMain University of Applied Sciences)
  • Spain (Prof. Dr. Laura Oso Casas, Dr. Keina Raquel Espiñeira González & Leticia Santaballa Santos -Universidade da Coruña)
  • Poland (Dr. Joanna Zuzanna Popławska, Warsaw School of Economics SGH)
  • Italy (Dr. Ester Driel, Interdisciplinary Social Science, Utrecht University)

Discussant: Prof. Dr. Ajay Bailey (Head of Department SGPL, Utrecht University)

Moderator: Dr. Karin Geuijen (Coordinator, Welcoming Spaces)


12.30-13.30: LUNCH



13.30-13.45: Blerta Bajrami-Shaqiri, entrepreneur and professional in care and founder of Partisan Medical Mercenaries

13:45-14.00: Interactive map – Irene Almazán, Adolfo Patón, María García Tarancón (CEPAIM Spain); Dr. Bianca Sytniewski and Irene Almazán

14.00- 14.30

  • Economic revitalization – Prof. Dr. Laura Oso Casas (Universidade da Coruña); Dr. Joanna Zuzanna Popławska, Warsaw School of Economics SGH)
  • Political resistance/instability – Dr. Jose Ricardo Martins (Utrecht University)
  • Social cohesion – Dr. Karin Geuijen and Dr. Sara Miellet (Utrecht University); Leticia Santaballa (Universidade da Coruña)

Discussant: Dr. Ilse van Liempt (Human Geography and Spatial Planning, Utrecht University)

Moderator/discussant: Dr. Dora Sampaio (International Development Studies, Utrecht University)


14.30-15.00: COFFEE BREAK


15.00-16.00: MOVING FORWARD: Learning from good practices


  • Ben van Essen (SBE Samenwerkingsverband Burgerkracht Europa): Power of meaningful organizational partnerships and cross-border contacts
  • Stephan Rothe & Steffen Präger (Plattform e.V.): Innovative inclusive practices in Germany


  • Importance of migrants/citizen engagement in emplacement – Dr. Sara Miellet (Utrecht University) and Dr. Keina Raquel Espiñeira González (Universidade da Coruña)
  • Importance of governance/local government/mayors – Dr. Jose Ricardo Martins (Welcoming Spaces)
  • Role of the media – Jofelle Tesorio (Welcoming Spaces)

Discussant: Prof. Dr. Tanja Bastia (Global Development Institute, University of Manchester)

Moderator/discussant:  Dr. Bianca Szytniewski (IDS, Utrecht University- Welcoming Spaces)


16.15-17.00: FINAL PANEL: How to achieve spatial justice and contribute to the SDGs/Setting the agenda for a ‘whole society’ approach: how to inspire each other and make policies more coherent?

  • Jan Braat (Senior policy-advisor on migration and inclusion at the city of Utrecht)
  • Huub Wilbrink (Senior policy maker, Central Organization for the Reception of Asylum Seekers)
  • Prof. Tanja Bastia (Global Development Institute, University of Manchester)
  • Ben van Essen (SBE Samenwerkingsverband Burgerkracht Europa)

Moderator/Discussant: Prof. Dr. Annelies Zoomers  (IDS, Utrecht University – Principal Investigator Welcoming Spaces)


17.00-17.15 – CLOSURE followed by drinks


Don’t forget to REGISTER! Please click HERE.

For practicalities about the venue, maps, public transport, and parking, please click HERE.

Takeaways from the roundtable “Welcoming Spaces Forum: Policy challenges for migrant emplacement in rural areas” in Santiago de Compostela

By Leticia Santaballa Santos

On Oct. 6, 2023 at the Consello da Cultura Galega (Santiago de Compostela), the public session of the “Welcoming Spaces Forum: Policy challenges for migrant emplacement in rural areas” took place. Our aim was to initiate the debate on the arrival of migrants in rural areas from different perspectives: with representatives from municipalities, third sector entities, and policymakers from different administrations at European, national and regional level.

The first of the roundtables included representatives of the municipalities of Celanova, Burela, San Bartolomé de la Torre (Huelva) and Camañas (Teruel). The representatives presented the initiatives they are carrying out for the reception of newcomers and revitalisation purposes, such as the efforts put in place since more than 30 years with the initiative to attract new inhabitants to Camañas, consisting in granting personalized social and economic support for the newcomers on the first months around arrival (before-during-after).  

In the discussion they reflected on how they implemented initiatives in favour of the revitalisation of the territory and the reception of migrants, but also the challenges they perceive on a daily basis, such as the insufficient institutional support from other territorial spheres, the need to strengthen policies for public housing in rural areas and possible suffering of migrants might due to the way in which migration services are managed.

This was followed by a second roundtable of entities with Cepaim Foundation, the NGO Ecos do Sur, the Yaran Foundation, the Cantaclaro Association and a participant from the Neighbourhood Association of Arenillas (Soria), who also spoke as a neighbour and ex-mayor. The discussion focused on the important role of the social sector in rural areas, which consists of the provision of support to people in vulnerable situations, supply of cultural, leisure or participation services, and in some cases a form of community support among people who have lived a migration experience. 

Finally, in the table of policymakers, the Secretary General of Emigration, the Director of the Galician Agency for Rural Development, a technical representative of the Directorate General of Social Inclusion, a representative of the European Rural Pact (European Commission) and the head of cabinet of the Secretary of State for Migration participated. The participants reflected on policies that affect localities at the intersection between development and settlement of newcomers from migrant origin. Important issues that were addressed are social support, economic and technical help for returnees and advice for entrepreneurship.

From this table of policy makers, we can conclude the importance of a multilevel approach to policy making on these issues; and especially the potential to develop policies on rural development and migration jointly. As the same time, it is important to be reflective on how policies can influence the trajectories of people in the host country, depending on the migratory context in which they are circumscribed.

Activating the migration-development link in medium and small municipalities – H2020 Joint declaration

Five ideas for getting the most out of the Italy’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan (and for a better reception of refugees)

Joint declaration of the Horizon2020 project

Welcoming Spaces and Whole-COMM

April 2022

Since 2015, there has been a redistribution of asylum seekers throughout the country, even in the most peripheral areas. Specifically, territorially and economically most disadvantaged areas of the country are often those most capable of leveraging the arrival of refugees to start rethinking the future and investing in economic, social and cultural revitalization.

Yet these promising experiences have remained substantially isolated, at best awarded formal recognition as “good practices”, in a context where the link between welcoming migrants and territorial development of marginal areas has not been placed at the centre of any real national policy.

To counter this lack of attention, the researchers involved in two ongoing projects, all funded by the European Commission’s Horizon2020 program—Welcoming Spaces and Whole-COMM—want to unite their voices to emphasise the importance of some key principles for the creation of a stable and profitable link between the integration of migrants and the development of marginal areas. To prevent territorial and social exclusion from reinforcing one other, and starting from the kind of development that also leverages cultural and environmental dimensions, we believe that the following principles should be placed at the centre of a serious program of coordinated investments and interventions, from the local level to the national and European one.

  • Produce shared imaginaries of possible futures regarding migration and development of inland areas. Migration is often narrated as a problem, a crisis to be solved, while peripheral areas are often romanticised or trivialised by traditional media. Given that narratives on migration and inner areas can influence and are influenced by policies, it is necessary to co-construct a “third imaginary” to bring out the link between migration and development, with space for cultural diversity and a clearly defined added value for territories and communities. The various welcome initiatives present in some peripheral Italian areas are already working in this sense (e.g.: photographic exhibitions and public seminars, street art contests, summer schools, collaborations with local and national newspapers, blogs, theatrical performances, documentaries, etc.).
  • Support development for the benefit of all. The development of inner areas should be considered in an integrated way, combining the dimension of socio-cultural well-being with the environmental, economic and political dimensions. From this perspective, it is necessary to take charge of the needs and aspirations of all the people who are part of the new intercultural communities present in the inner areas, in order to preserve their dynamism and development. It is essential to overcome the shared vulnerabilities of the residents. This means ensuring a good quality of life through the consolidation of local networks and social infrastructure and access to public services, housing and decent employment opportunities.
  • Support a participatory and inclusive (whole-of-community) approach to the integration of migrants and local development. The development of inner areas and the creation of positive relationships with migrants must necessarily involve the whole community, and the multiplicity of voices and organisations that characterise it: the local administration, civil society associations, businesses, individual native citizens and migrants. It is only through mutual knowledge and dialogue that it is possible to build cohesive communities of which everyone feels a part, where hospitality and integration are not a burden but a chance to imagine and build new opportunities for economic and social development.
  • Think about local development and the integration of migrants starting from the relationship between rural and urban areas. Local development and the inclusion of newcomers in peripheral areas cannot be thought of as isolated and impermeable to the dynamics of urban centres, which represent relevant poles of the labour market and services. The relationships between urban and rural areas consist of material and immaterial flows: people, economic resources, information, skills and practices are all elements that make up this relationship. An example of this is the food chain, where many migrants are employed and where the dynamics of large-scale distribution often generate negative effects on producers and workers, as well as on the environment. The joint strategic planning between rural and mountain areas of these flows is therefore indispensable to guarantee spatial and social justice and to promote sustainable development.
  • Establish decision-making bodies that connect the different levels of government and also involve medium and small municipalities. The smaller municipalities are often excluded from decision-making processes which nevertheless have a decisive impact on their territories. Interventions capable of supporting local development and the integration of migrants in major urban centres may be unsuitable for rural and mountain contexts, characterised by different needs and resources. At the same time, Regional and central governments, even if they want to, do not have effective tools at their disposal to keep in touch with these areas and closely follow their transformations. It is therefore essential to develop stable institutional mechanisms that allow for continuous, and not just occasional, exchange between levels of government and facilitate the involvement of smaller municipalities.

These could become inspiring principles for an adjustment of the Italy’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan, which so far has underestimated the very real danger of ethnic and territorial disadvantages reinforcing each other. By putting these principles into practice, it may be possible to counter the risk of proposing standard solutions in the face of very heterogeneous paths of both the territories and the migrants, or the danger of draining funds through calls for projects that fails to connect individual initiatives to an organic, medium-long term strategic planning framework. With an eye to the immediate horizon, these same principles could guide us in managing the arrival of Ukrainian refugees, so that reception becomes a tool for pursuing lasting processes of economic, social and institutional innovation.

A bright start for the International PhD School on Migration and Socioecological Change

How to contribute to the fair and sustainable development of European localities other than large metropolis while at the same time offering a welcoming space for non-EU migrants to pursue their life projects?

This is the question driving the International PhD School on Migration and Socioecological Change organized by Utrecht University´s Focus Area on Migration & Societal Change and the International Development Studies Group of the Human Geography and Spatial Planning Department at the Faculty of Geosciences, in collaboration with the partners of the Welcoming Spaces Consortium.

The PhD School runs on a collaborative, interactive and transdisciplinary methodology which allows for PhD researchers to discuss their research plans and especially their ongoing outcomes with fellow PhD researchers, more senior scholars and non-academic experts and practitioners. The School kicked off last March 9 with an online “Intro Day” with the 17 registered PhD researchers from 11 countries. On March 12, the “Open Day” of PhD School gathered 8 speakers around two online roundtables with 57 participants. The main part of the PhD School involves a one week-long workshop in Soria (Spain) tentatively scheduled for the last week of September.

The PhD School is coordinated by Dr. Alberto Alonso-Fradejas from SGPL´s IDS group, and includes Dr. Bianca Szytniewski and Dr. Marlies Meijer from SGPL´s Geography & Education and Spatial Planning groups, respectively, among the members of the international facilitation team.